Maple Leafs vs. Bruins observations: William Nylander and Joseph Woll send it to Game 7



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The idea of a Game 7 between the Maple Leafs and Bruins once seemed nearly impossible, and yet, here we are. In another tight, defensive performance, the Leafs beat the Bruins 2-1 in Game 6 on Thursday to tie the series 3-3.

Toronto had control in the first period, holding the Bruins to a single shot, from Jake DeBrusk while short-handed. Boston had nothing going at five-on-five. The shot attempts between the two clubs were close, but the Bruins couldn’t hit the net. That’s partly because their shots were simply going wide, but the Leafs also did a good job getting in front of their attempts and re-directing shots high and wide.

The Bruins didn’t start to get chances until halfway through the second, and Joseph Woll rose to the challenge. Despite power-play opportunities on both sides, including a double-minor against Boston, it looked as though the game was going to remain without a goal heading into the third until William Nylander scored his first of the playoffs in the final minute. In the third period, both teams pushed for the next goal, and some solid work and lucky bounces kept the puck out of the Leafs’ net.

With time winding down, Nylander got his second goal of the game, putting the Leafs up by two and securing the victory. Morgan Geekie wound up scoring with 0.1 seconds left, and although it hurt Woll’s save percentage, it won’t change the fact that the Leafs’ season, and their chance at reaching the second round, is still alive.


Three stars

First star: Joseph Woll

He was so close to his first career playoff shutout, but that doesn’t take away from his performance. Woll didn’t see much action for the first 25 minutes of the game, but was sharp. His saves through traffic were strong, but I was more impressed with how he handled those chaotic moments when he was down yet composed, doing his best to take as much of the net away from Boston as possible.

Second star: William Nylander

The goals obviously were important, but the timing of them was more meaningful. Late-period goals are anchors, and Nylander’s in the second period likely made a Boston team that wasn’t playing at its best feel even worse. Nylander’s first goal, similar to Jake McCabe’s goal in Game 5, was another example of it never being a bad idea to throw a puck on net, as this one hit Charlie McAvoy along the way.

His second goal is what we know Nylander for. It was a one-on-one match with Jeremy Swayman, and Nylander won.

Third star: Matthew Knies

Knies was going to get a star regardless of whether he got a point or not. The assist was just an added bonus.

The 21-year-old was wherever the puck was, offensively and defensively. You could tell the Bruins had an extra eye on him and finished their checks whenever they could, but Knies handled the physicality well and bulldozed through some of those attempts to slow him down.

Two defensive plays, in the first and third periods, stood out the most. David Pastrnak wound up with the puck in the slot in the first period, and Knies, in the correct position, deflected it, stopping it from getting on net. Then, his backcheck from one end of the ice to the other, to get in a position to stop McAvoy, was a well-timed play.


Player Grades

A

Simon Benoit-Jake McCabe

Not much to complain about with these two together, aside from a neutral-zone turnover by Benoit in the second period. These two together have been as steady as it gets.

Joel Edmundson 

He’s made for a series like this. His well-timed blocks, especially on the penalty kill, and the way he closes on the opposition in his own end were huge for the Leafs in getting the puck out of their own quickly.

A-minus

Connor Dewar–David Kampf–Calle Jarnkrok

The fourth line didn’t get many chances on net, and totaled three shots. That doesn’t change the fact that they were a strong unit. They spent a lot of time in the offensive zone and kept the puck out of the Bruins’ hands. Those extended shifts were big momentum-wise, especially that near-minute-long shift in the third.

Ilya Lyubushkin 

There are times when he hangs on to the puck a little too long, but he’s still making good decisions with it and with his positioning.

Morgan Rielly 

He had hlpers on both goals and got a lot of ice time in the final part of the third period. There were times when he seemed to struggle to handle and move the puck, and he got hit in the hand by a puck in the first period.

B

Max Domi 

He was still a positive contributor in the faceoff dot, and easily the fastest player on his line. That steal on Brad Marchand from behind the net in the first period was one of Boston’s best chances to score early, while Domi’s offensive awareness on the rush led to some good chances for himself and his linemates.

Tyler Bertuzzi

He recorded only one shot on the net, but Bertuzzi was all around Swayman. Whether it was his his stick, his body or his skate, he did whatever it took to maintain possession of the puck in the offensive zone.

Timothy Liljgren 

He got the primary assist on Nylander’s first goal, and I liked the communication with Morgan Rielly on some of Boston’s rushes.

B-minus

Pontus Holmberg

Similar to Knies, Holmberg is hitting another gear when it comes to his physical game.

Mitch Marner

He led all Leafs forwards in ice time and created some rebound chances in front for Bertuzzi. He didn’t get many opportunities to make skilled plays, and that may be a benefit moving forward. Keeping it simple is the way to go in this series.

C-plus

I’m not sure if anyone had Gregor making his playoff debut in Game 6, but he definitely made good on it. I was looking forward to seeing his regular-season speed and physicality in the postseason, and he made the best of his chance with six hits.

Nick Robertson

I thought his shot in the first period might’ve caught Swayman off-guard. His second shot was the only significant danger that the Leafs created on the power play, while his best chance of the game didn’t lead to anything, as he fanned on the eventual shot. But he got into the corners and initiated contact, which is a plus.


Final grade: A

It was another tight game in which the Leafs didn’t give the Bruins much to work with. When Boston pushed, the Leafs pushed back and retained control. The commitment to blocking shots in the first period, from both the forwards and the defencemen, was huge, even though it didn’t give Woll much to work with. It’s another game in which the Leafs scored only two goals, and the power play doesn’t look anywhere close to being better, but you love the execution and the result.


What’s next for the Leafs?

Game 7. Saturday night, 7 p.m.. Hockey Night in Canada. It’s an opportunity for the Leafs to exorcize their demons against a Boston team that needs to redeem itself after a 3-1 series collapse a year ago.

(Photo: Mark Blinch / NHLI via Getty Images)





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